You likely collect a lot of data in your donor database, but is it really valuable to you?
It’s not if you just let it sit there, rarely look at it, and never run reports based on data that will help you with meaningful donor segmentation for appeals. And by that, I mean meaningful from the donor’s perspective.
I’m not talking about the most basic segments, like donor vs. non-donor or small donor vs. large donor. Those are useful, but they’re the bare minimum you should be doing.
Because, when it comes to what motivates someone to give, truly one size does not fit all. And you’ll raise so much more money if you’re able to tap into a donor’s personal values and innate identification.
Let’s look at what you can do.
Tap, Tap, Tappin’ at Your Donor’s Story
Begin with the data already stored in your database. This will help you unearth a donor’s “origin story.” In other words, where they’ve come from (direct mail; online appeal; website; social or other media; event; peer fundraiser; emergency appeal; volunteer activity; personal introduction; user of services; etc.), demographic info (name; address; marital status; age; etc.) and other ways they may be connected to your cause.
First ask yourself whether you’re currently collecting all this “origin story” data. If not, where are the gaps and how might you close them? For example, could you add a space for donors to add birthdays on your remit form? Could you enter in a “proxy” age, based on something you know about the event they attended (e.g., came to GenZ mixer; joined Seniors Tea; enrolled in “New Parents/New Babies” workshop, etc.).
Next ask yourself where this information is stored. Even if you religiously enter this data, it’s not valuable to you unless you can easily find and organize it.
- Is it consistently entered into just one field, or is it left to individual data enterers to choose (e.g., donation records; campaigns; events; actions; notes) – resulting in metaphorical garbage bins where data goes to die?
- Is it easy to see at a glance via a dashboard? [Useful if you’re picking up the phone to call a donor, making assignments to a volunteer, or simply planning your next communications]
- Is it easy to retrieve via a report? [Essential if you’re segmenting an appeal]
It’s just useless busy work to enter data you can never find and seldom, if ever, use.
Fleshing Out Your Donor’s Evolving Tale
Once you’ve got folks categorized into some general buckets, it’s time to add the distinguishing data that means something to the donor right now. You see, the fact they’re a “senior,” “parent,” “San Franciscan,” “sports enthusiast,” “concert goer,” or whatever, may not be among the top three, five or even ten ways they identify themselves. What you need to do is figure out what matters most – to them – in driving philanthropic engagement with your organization.
1. Look to Programs They’ve Supported
When donors identify as “cat lovers,” this is generally different than “dog lovers.” When donors give to “senior services,” this is different than “children’s services” donors. Donors who give to “research” are motivated differently than those who give to “scholarships.” Figure out a way to enter and record this data in a manner that’s easy for you to find and use when segmenting and crafting appeals.
2. Look to Online Engagement
What web pages do they visit? What newsletter articles do they read? What social media posts do they click on? What do they share with others? What do they comment on, and what do they say? Do some simple online research.
- Enable Google alerts for major donors and/or their companies.
- Follow your donors on social media (e.g., LinkedIn, X/Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram)
- Like their company on LinkedIn or Facebook
- Join a discussion group to which they belong on LinkedIn.
- Examine how they interact with you (events they attend; committees they join; volunteer activities in which they participate, etc.)
3. Consider What Other Information They’re Sharing
If they let you know about an address change, you know they want you to be able to continue communicating with them. If they let you know about a death in the family, they may welcome a sympathy card. If they give you their phone number, they don’t mind receiving a phone call. If they opt in to text messages, this means they want to be engaged. If they respond to a survey, they clearly want you to listen to them (and, ideally, report back with outcomes).
Directly Asking for Helpful Data
It’s a given in fundraising that “if you want gifts, you must ask;” the same holds true for data. While a lot of data is there for the taking if you just pay attention, there’s more you need to know to put your best foot forward with donors – many of whom are motivated differently than your generic cookie cutter approach. Here are two tried-and-true strategies to put in place to get to know your donors better.
1. Send a Donor Engagement Survey
A survey can give your donors a voice, measure their trust, commitment, and satisfaction, and provide valuable insight into how they see your organization. It’s one of the easiest and least expensive things you can do, and it doubles as a relationship-building tool for showing supporters you’re interested in what they think, care about and feel (not just their money). It’s like having a personal conversation, but you’re doing it at scale.
Some of the things you can ask:
- What’s your preferred communication channel?
- On a scale of one to five, how would you rate your awareness of (name several of your programs or initiatives)?
- On a scale of not at all, somewhat, a lot, or not applicable, how would you rate your interest in (name several of your programs or initiatives)?
- What most draws you to participate here? (Include a drop-down with choices relevant to your organization, e.g., “My children attend;” “I’m a cancer survivor;” “I have learning disabilities;” “I participated in a volunteer work day;” “I was a foster child;” “My family lived paycheck-to-paycheck;” “I was a scholarship recipient;” “It’s an essential community resource;” “I adopted here;” “I was impressed by the tour,” and so forth).
2. Have a One-to-One Conversation
Any time you’re with a donor face to face is a learning opportunity. It’s your job not to blow it! Seriously, become very conscious of the fact you’ll be meeting with someone, whether in a large or small group or one-to-one via in-person meeting, virtual visit or phone call.
Plan ahead to ask a few questions that will uncover donor passions and help you with future cultivation and solicitation.
- What are your hobbies?
- What are your weekend/vacation plans?
- What are you reading or watching on TV right now?
- Which of our programs most interests you?
- What concerns keep you up at night?
- Other than us, what are your top philanthropies right now?
- What are you most proud of when it comes to your philanthropy (it doesn’t have to be to your organization)?
- Is there anything you’d like to know more about?
- Is there anything else I should ask you about why you’re engaged here?
Whatever you learn can become a relational anchor which helps to secure the bond between you and your donor over time. When you know where you’re going, you won’t inadvertently set anchor in the wrong port.
DON’T: Here’s an example from early in my career where I failed to do adequate prep work prior to meeting face-to-face with a major donor prospect. Because I neglected to ask generative, open-ended questions that would have helped me learn what I needed to know to unlock the donor’s passions, I simply opened the door and charged in – without a relational anchor. I “pitched” a program, then asked for $25,000. It turned out she had no interest in this program. I should have known this, but didn’t because I spent too little time in conversation with her prior to our meeting (which included a board member and the program director). This was a new program that would not be a “go” without a lead gift, and this donor had made gifts of this amount in the past. We loved the program, so assumed she would too. Don’t assume; ask! She offered $1,000 toward the program if it ever became a reality.
Your database is the foundation of your ability to sustain lasting relationships with supporters. If you’ve not collected any information about what floats peoples’ boats, you’re more likely to sink than swim. Because each individual has different innate identification, based on personal values and interests.
The more you understand donor motivation, the better able you are to shape an offer that will provide the donor with the value they seek. The entire process, after all, is a value-for-value exchange. The donor offers monetary support in return for something, usually intangible, from you. It may be their name in lights, or it may be simply knowing they’ve given back or fulfilled a moral obligation. Or it may be giving at a level that puts them with their peers (or those they’d like to become their peers).
Cultivation, in part, is your opportunity to figure out what has meaning for your prospective supporter. Find out what would incline them to give. Then find out what would incline them to give more. When you’re ready, incorporate everything you’ve learned into your ask.
Consider how you want to use your data, then outline a strategy for making it not just possible –but likely — you’ll do so. It’s not particularly useful to have little bits and pieces of data stored here and there, if you can’t bring them all together to create a portrait or story of the people to whom the data applies.
Make data entry, and thoughtful, strategic usage, an organizational priority. This isn’t a one-time task, but an ongoing project to keep everything up-to-date. When everyone understands where you’re going, they can all make recommendations about the best routes to get there. That’s how you’ll build the relationships you need to thrive, not just survive.
Want More Help to Continue Building Productive Donor Relationships?
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Image — Three San Francisco Hearts: Gilded Heart. Bay Area of Individual Delight. Corona Circus.